Zack and Miri... (2008)


You'll never look at the "Hello, I'm a Mac" kid in quite the same way again. Following Justin Long's great turn as the nerdy kid in the unfairly canceled David Letterman executive produced TV show Ed (note to NBC Universal: please release the DVDs already), the Vassar College graduate has begun quietly appearing in some downright hilarious cameos in Frat Pack related comedies of the Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, and Judd Apatow variety. With mini but memorable roles in The Break Up and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Long has become one of the filmmakers' MVPs in the same category as other frequent go-to funnymen Paul Rudd and Danny McBride.

Yet, it wasn't until he appeared in a brief but memorable role in Kevin Smith's new comedy Zack and Miri... that you realize just how damn funny that Mac kid really is. As a gay actor in adult films who accompianies his boyfriend to his ten-year high school reunion in Pittsburgh, Long completely steals the film away from its leads, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in a scene so hysterical, shocking and profane that I found myself wishing we could've followed around his character for two hours instead of the affable but less-than-truly-inspired Zack and Miri.

Although, this being said Zack and Miri's premise alone is priceless. The film centers on two lifelong platonic friends-- co-under-achievers who've become roommates in debt-ridden existence-- who find themselves so broke that after losing the water, power, and with the threat of being forced onto the Pittsburgh streets, make the unlikely decision to construct their own "home-brewed blue movie," as the press release promises. The characters, comprised of the beautiful Miri (Elizabeth Banks, gamely joining the boys club and underplaying her wholesome image) and goofy Zack (Seth Rogen) enlist the support of Zack's unhappily married coworker (The Office's Craig Robinson) to use his "flat-screen TV money" to fund their project as a producer, with the perk of being able to cast the shapely women who will star, including notorious real-life performers Traci Lords and Katie Morgan.

However, Kevin Smith's film never fully lives up to the comedic potential of neither its title nor premise as it unsuccessfully tries to marry raunchiness with romantic comedy by predictably revealing that deep down, the two friends have always felt more than a passing attraction to one another. Or, to quote the far more blunt Rogen in Entertainment Weekly's "The Fall Movie Preview," he noted that "I feel like a lot of people want to f*** their friends. That's always relatable." While that probably sends a warning call to all of Seth Rogen's female friends, in the same token it also seems to be the 2008 version of the more subtle evaluation of the same tricky situation mined by Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner in When Harry Met Sally.

Yet, in roughly twenty years, have American values shifted so much that filmmaking and romantic comedy has moved to When Harry Met Sally Make a Porno? I truly hope not and while I was game to laugh at the situation itself and have enjoyed some of Smith's films in the past including the unfairly maligned Jersey Girl, the sweet yet raunchy Chasing Amy, and Clerks, in this one Smith tries to outdo not only himself but Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers by stockpiling as many toilet jokes as he can possibly imagine to fill his 101 minute running time.

And while you know going in exactly the type of dialogue you've come to expect-- Smith in his heyday was the Bard of explicit conversations that would make the women of Sex and the City blush-- this time it just feels stale and Rogen is reigned in to become more of an "actor" than the far more natural qualities he's exuded in more recent works like Pineapple Express. While he reveals in the press release that his earliest Hollywood ambition was "to be in a Kevin Smith movie," the fact that he also shared that he and his girlfriend approved the script before fully committing did make me think that perhaps deep down, he knew it wasn't up to the usual level that would have normally made him dive in right away.

The chemistry between Rogen and Banks (whom he'd recommended to Smith after working with her in The 40 Year Old Virgin) is wonderful as Banks even joked that onscreen "we have been cursed with the 'adorable stick'... beating adorable over the head," as their home movie's big sex scene becomes a big (nicely fully clothed) love-scene instead, revealing their true feelings about one another. Yet they're especially good bantering back and forth early on as they walk and talk, drive and talk, falling into a familiarity old friends easily have. In fact, they're so great together that I wanted to pull them out of this film and cast them in an altogether different romantic comedy-- one with more of Rogen's improvisation and free-wheeling humor that doesn't simply hit plot point A and B, thudding along and hoping we won't notice the obvious 3-act marks by distracting us with enough jokes about fecal matter and having Zack's ultimate "I Love You" confession occur when Miri is on the toilet.

While comically, I get that some scatological humor works, honestly, I've always thought that it's an easy way out and a cheat. And while it worked fine in There's Something About Mary because the script and performances were so strong that we didn't care about a few off-color hair gel jokes here and there, ever since then it's just been the old-standby, lowering audience standards film by film as it shows up far too often in everything from trite movies like Along Came Polly to better written ones like Tropic Thunder that suffer because of it.

While I get that we're in a different place cinematically than we were in the era of old "oh my gosh, I dig my friend," movies of yesteryear and one wouldn't want that from Smith, it's a lazy way out. And perhaps by removing even half of the jokes about bowel movements, the fimmakers would've actually surprised us by showing that Smith and Rogen can make a sweet romantic comedy about making an adult movie instead of simply trying to shock and gross us out (particularly in one sight-gag I'm still trying to erase from memory nearly one month after seeing the film) that would've been worth even half of what I can only assume is the astronomical price-tag of the advertising campaign launched by MGM Films and The Weinstein Company.

Unfortunately as it stands, there's not enough there to recommend Zack and Miri, except for a killer scene featuring Justin Long that rivals both Tom Cruise's wickedly hysterical cameo in Tropic Thunder and Jason Sudeikis's performance in The Rocker.